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How to protect your vehicle against road salt damage

Shore Clean car wash in Marmora posts a humorous and timely reminder for motorists to remember to wash the salt off their cars./Joan Kostiuk Shore Clean car wash in Marmora posts a humorous and timely reminder for motorists to remember to wash the salt off their cars./Joan Kostiuk

Shore Clean Auto Care Center on Route 9 in the Marmora section of Upper Township posted a sign recently reminding motorists to wash the road salt off their vehicles.

“Salts only good on fries,” a sign in front of the car wash stated Thursday (If only they had used an apostrophe).

It’s good advice.

A mixture of salt and sand is usually spread over roads before or after a snow or ice storm. Salt lowers the freezing point of water, causing any ice already formed to melt even though the air temperature remains below freezing. The sand helps keep the salt in place, plus it adds a bit of traction to wet and often slushy roads.

While salting makes the roads safer, it has drawbacks. It can cause major body and undercarriage damage if left on vehicles.

You can reduce the chance of damage from salt, although it takes some work. Here are some tips from DMV.org to help protect your vehicle from the ravages of road salt.

Prep your vehicle

The best time to prevent salt damage to vehicles is before the first snowflake falls. A little car maintenance will help keep the rust away.

In late autumn, thoroughly wash every inch of your vehicle, including the underside.

Apply a meticulous coat of wax, followed by a wax sealant to help keep the wax adhered to the vehicle's paint.

Seal the undercarriage, paying closest attention to the brake and fuel lines, as these are the most susceptible items for rust and corrosion and make your vehicle unsafe if they fail. You can buy a product to do this, or you can have it done professionally.

Keep a clean machine

Keeping your vehicle as clean as possible during the winter will go a long way to cut down the damage done by salt and sand.

Take your vehicle to the car wash as often as possible. Some car washes offer steam cleaning and undercarriage cleaning as well as traditional car washing.

Have your car rewaxed and sealed when you have it washed.

At-home car washing tips

If you can't get to the car wash, you can wash your car at home, weather permitting.

Wearing a pair of waterproof gloves, begin by spraying down your vehicle using a garden hose equipped with a high-pressure nozzle, moving from top to bottom. Be sure to get as much mud and muck from beneath the wheel wells, under the bumpers, behind the fenders and in any other areas prone to salty slush splashes.

Follow with a warm, bubbly scrub-down using soap made especially for car washing. Dish soap strips the car's wax. Use a wash mitt or a sponge – never a shop rag, which may have metal bits in it.

If the vehicle is extremely salty, add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda to the wash water to help remove and neutralize the salt.

Be sure to scrub all the rubber, trim, outside door seals, tires and wheel covers.

Rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of soap.

Dry as a bone

For best results, take the time to finish the job, and you'll have less chance of hidden damage after it's too late.

Carefully dry the edges of the doors inside and out, including the undersides of door handles, all hinges, and the hood and trunk edges. This helps keep them from freezing shut.

Use a good quality spray protectant on all exterior rubber or vinyl surfaces. It may be best to spray the applicator you are using instead of spraying the product directly onto the surface. This will avoid any overspray onto the paint.

After a winter washing, apply an additional coat of wax to all exposed metal, using a hand-held hairdryer to warm the metal surface a bit before applying the wax. Warm the buffing rag, too, to help the wax better adhere to the cold metal.

Beach buggies beware

If you live near the ocean – even if it has never snowed in your area – your vehicle may still be under a slower attack by salt. The overspray and salt in the air near the beaches can and do cause rust and corrosion problems.

While not nearly as concentrated as the salt used on winter roads, it is important to keep vehicles at the shore washed, waxed and inspected regularly for signs of salt damage. The biggest damage areas on beach-dwelling vehicles tend to be the hood, top, and rear deck of the car. Spray settles and dries, leaving a salt coating.

Vinyl tops are especially susceptible to deterioration from exposure to salt and sun. Once the vinyl begins to break down, salt spray can accumulate underneath, and may go undetected until it has caused serious damage.

Give your beach mobile a good washing at least once a month, adding a couple of tablespoons of baking soda to the wash water. An alternative, if you are unable to do a full wash that often, is to attach to your garden hose an unused spray attachment (those used to dilute weed killer or fertilizer, for example) filled with water to which a couple of tablespoons of baking soda have been added. Spray over the susceptible areas and follow with a clear water rinse. This will help keep your vehicle sparkling.


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